With the image of the true vine, Jesus is talking about himself as the source of true life and fruitfulness. Anyone who is joined to him is a branch on the vine.
We are very aware in these pandemic days of how fragile life is. The vaccines have helped to allay our fears a bit. Life must indeed go on, but the wise person never loses sight of the fact that there is no vaccine against death. As well as being a biological thing, people speak about life in other ways: the quality of life, enjoying life, getting a life. All of these are great as far as they go, but they don’t and can’t go far enough – not so long as death is part of life.
What we really need is a life without death. That is real quality of life, that is really getting a life. As with human life itself, though, we can only receive that life as a gift. And it comes only from Jesus Christ. The only way he gives that gift is if someone is united to him.
Union with Jesus Christ is far deeper than the union of a club or political party. It is not merely some kind of union of intent. It is a union of person, life and love. It is more akin to the union of a family. We are conceived and born into this family through faith and baptism. Baptism gives us a share in the very life of Jesus Christ and unites us to his Person. It is a new birth. Our whole human existence in body and soul is reborn into eternal life. It is entrance into the life and existence of God.
All of this is just another way of speaking of the true nature of the Church. Sometimes we look too much on her external institutions as if she were just an international organization akin to the United Nations, only with a religious programme. But her true identity is that she is the ongoing and active presence in the world of the true Vine and his branches.
The true strength, effectiveness and stability of the Church are not from her externals. They are the living presence in her of the Risen Christ whose life and love are active in the believing hearts of her members. He feeds his life in us through the sacraments. If we truly believe and produce fruit pleasing to God, then the Father prunes or trims us with the double-edged sword of the Word of Jesus. And, as Jesus puts it so bluntly, his Father also cuts off the parasites from the Church, the branches which produce no fruit pleasing to God.
The Church is God’s project. It is He who decides who stays and who goes, and how those who stay should be treated. It is He who works out his plan for the Church whether we cooperate willingly, unwillingly or not at all with that plan. It is not those who shout the loudest or claim some self-invented right to pull or push the Church in this direction or that who define the Church’s path. It is God himself who does it through those who patiently, and with humility and obedience of heart, remain open to Christ in the depths, in the roots, of their heart. It is our total and life-giving dependence on the Vine which feeds the soul of the Church, not power, not headlines, not political or diplomatic strategies, not protagonism, not factionism. These things only wither those who heed them.
I challenge myself and you to renew our commitment to the life of our baptism and to pursue as far as we can a radical spiritual life in union with Christ. In due course, we will bear abundant fruit for Christ and for the world.